Rogers Centre approved for renovations

DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Blue Jays have gained approval for significant renovations to their Rogers Centre home in downtown Toronto, with work expected to be split over the next two offseasons.

President and CEO Mark Shapiro said on Friday that he views these renovations as a “mid-term plan,” modernizing the stadium, opened in 1989, for the next generation of fans. That, Shapiro believes, will buy the organization time to look down the road at long-term solutions, which could include a new stadium in Toronto.

“The majority of the impact is going to be felt in the lower bowl and concourses, but we will touch every part of the interior of the stadium,” Shapiro said, “not much on the exterior. It’s not the renovation for the next 50 years — it’s probably for the next 10 to 15 — but we’ll still have a stadium issue. It just gives us good runway to deal with a very complex issue on a stadium. What does that look like if we stay where we are? What does that look like if we move [the stadium]?”

The Blue Jays are still finalizing designs and budgets, which they expect to share in the early months of the season. There will be two areas of focus, one catering to players and the other to fans.

On the player side, the Blue Jays plan to upgrade the Rogers Centre facilities, with the clubhouse, training rooms and other facilities all likely to receive some attention. After the success of Toronto’s new player development complex in Dunedin, Fla., Shapiro wants to recreate some of those resources in Toronto for Major League players to use year-round.

In terms of fan experience, Shapiro says that most of the work will come on the 100 Level. Rogers Centre has always been a multipurpose stadium that just so happens to house the Blue Jays, but it’s been home to major concerts, the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and even the NBA’s Toronto Raptors over the years. That flexibility is valuable, but the Blue Jays want to create a truer “baseball” experience.

“It really will be changing the entire lower bowl, so ripping out the lower bowl and creating a new [experience],” Shapiro said. “The best thing to think about now is that we’re doing the best we can to move it from a stadium to a ballpark.”

Some of the work has begun already, with an upgraded and expanded scoreboard in center field this offseason. New lighting has been installed, too, but the heavy lifting will begin next winter and be completed in time for the 2025 season.

This delays the need for a longer-term solution, of course, but doesn’t make it disappear. The 10-to-15 year window Shapiro mentions is solely for a point of reference, not a hard timeline, but a solution will be needed when the time eventually comes. Over the past few years, Shapiro and the Blue Jays’ front office have identified that planning a “next-generation stadium” will require the full attention of a full team.

“That is not going to be a part-time job for three people in the organization,” Shapiro said. “We’re going to need to build a group to work on that effort and deal with it. That has not been done yet, but let’s get this renovation done and start working.

The long-term answer does not need to be a brand-new stadium or a new location, but that’s clearly on the table. Any further renovations down the road would need to address the exterior of the stadium and its retractable roof, which have held up well, but won’t last forever. Location will be a major factor, too, if the Blue Jays explore a larger footprint for infrastructure around the ballpark, like many modern stadium projects have done across all major sports recently.

In the meantime, though, the Blue Jays are confident that these renovations will do more than just hold them over, especially as the look to pack 45,000-plus fans into Rogers Centre to watch a talented young team whose window of contention is wide open.